Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Powell and Pressburger: 'Gone to Earth'

If you ignore Jennifer Jones's curious accent and a fairly creaky plot, this is a bit of a classic. As with more famous P&P outings like 'I Know Where I'm Going', the characters are strongly drawn, the dialogue snappy. And the sense of place is as powerful as you'd expect, both on the large scale - the landscape is breathtaking - and the small. The interiors are awesome, from the lowly cottage where protagonist Hazel lives with her beekeeper/coffinmaker/harpist father, to the dastardly squire's manor house. Watch it while you can!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

'The Lost Watercolours' is an Art Book of the Year!

Lovely to see 'The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden' featured as one of the Art Books of the Year in The Sunday Times yesterday. You can read what Michael Prodger had to say about the book here, though the website is subscription-only...

The book is more expensive than most art books but the cover price reflects the fact that it's a limited edition of 850 copies. Anyway it's cheaper than a new phone and will last a lot longer!

You can buy 'The Lost Watercolours' from independent booksellers such as Henry Sotheran's and Much Ado Books, or from The Mainstone Press.

Monday, 7 November 2016

'Century' at Jerwood / Bowie at Sotheby's

Century: 100 Modern British Artists from Jerwood Gallery on Vimeo.

The twentieth century was an exciting time for British artists. Inspired both by the revolutionary art movements of continental Europe and by deeply-ingrained insular traditions, painters and sculptors explored the world around them in thrilling new ways. At a time when photography, film and TV threatened to make traditional art forms redundant, artists responded by finding new ways of expressing their feelings about people and places that moved them – and the public responded in turn by flocking to museums and galleries.

Now open at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, ‘Century’ brings together paintings and sculptures, drawings and prints by a hundred artists who lived and worked in Britain during the 20th century. Some were immigrants. Others travelled extensively, across mainland Europe and further afield, in search of ideas and inspiration. Some haunted museums and became expert in African sculpture or Japanese printmaking. Others befriended avant-garde artists like Picasso and learnt from them.

Curating ‘Century’ has been a delight. All the works are selected from two eclectic collections of modern British art – the Jerwood Collection and the Ingram Collection – and while there are some famous names on display, what I love is the range, variety and quality of the artworks.

View of 'Bowie: Collector', from Sotheby's website
It's fairly madcap, though not quite as zany as the current exhibition of David Bowie's art collection at Sotheby's on Bond Street. Bowie's taste tended towards the vibrant, particularly in his liking for modern-art-influenced furniture. Those funky sofas and lamps are marvellous but sad: the treasures of a dead king.

I love how the Sotheby's curators have arranged everything, with huge photos of the man himself to remind us that what all the fuss is about, and then the most incredible amount of stuff crammed into each room. It's an art wake, a celebration (and, I know, fantastic publicity for no less than three upcoming auctions).  The show must have been both a logistical nightmare and tremendous fun to curate. It's certainly a treat for the visitor, not least because so many of the other visitors are obviously wondering whether to bid on particular pieces. The art world needs this glamour and excitement.

Reg Butler, Woman on Boat, 1953 (copyright artist estate)
Bowie's taste in art was eclectic. Alongside experimental New York art from the 1990s (which complements the zingy furnishings), there is a solid body of modern British art which bears a strong resemblance to Chris Ingram's collection. Similar artists, similar works, sometimes even the same works. It was weird to see 'Woman on Boat' (1953), one of several Reg Butler sculptures in 'Century', on show at Sotheby's.

Curiously, I was allowed to take pictures of this sculpture and anything else that caught my fancy, whereas Jerwood Gallery (and numerous other art museums) are obliged to ban photography to protect copyright holders. It's an odd situation, but it does mean that if you want to enjoy the treasures on display in 'Century', you'll have to go along and see them for yourself. And if you've never visited the Old Town of Hastings, you're in for a treat.

'Century' runs at Jerwood Gallery until January.
'Bowie Collector' runs at Sotheby's until Nov 10.

Monday, 10 October 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: John Piper

John Piper, Beach and Starfish, Seven Sisters, mixed media, 1933-4 (Jerwood Collection)

Like many British artists of his generation Piper was inspired from an early age by places – rather than people – and here he has used the avant-garde medium of collage to bring the venerable British genre of coastal painting up to date. Look carefully and you can see how cleverly he has combined paint and other media, like the fabric of the flag and the seashells borrowed from an old book, to make a familiar scene seem new and strange.

Piper is one of 100 modern British artists featured in my exhibition 'Century', which opens at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in a couple of weeks. In fact we're starting the hang this week (touches wood, tries not to think about railway strikes)...

Friday, 7 October 2016

Tirzah Garwood & Peggy Angus in the ODNB

Tirzah Garwood by Duffy Ayers, 1944
Earlier this year I wrote entries for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on two remarkable women: Peggy Angus and Tirzah Garwood. The former was born in Chile to ex-patriot Scottish parents, then raised in Muswell Hill, London. She won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in the early 1920s and there met Eric Ravilious, who in turn met Tirzah when, after graduating from the Royal College, he taught her at the Eastbourne School of Art. When Eric and Tirzah were married in 1930 the two women became friends; though very different in many ways, they shared both artistic talent and a belief in plain speaking.

It was fascinating to try and condense the lives of these two immensely creative, characterful people into a few hundred words, especially given that their lives were so closely intertwined. Inevitably an ODNB entry tends to focus on the facts but I hope some hint of character comes through in the newly published essays. For anyone who's interest is piqued there is good news.

In Peggy's case, I would recommend Carolyn Trant's beautiful limited edition biography 'Art for Life', which is based heavily on interviews with Peggy - though after following the link you may want to seek it out in a library! Alternatively you could get hold of the book I wrote to accompany the 2014 exhibition at Towner - 'Peggy Angus: Designer, Teacher, Painter'. I was going to say it's a cheaper option, but people seem to be offering copies at the most terrifying prices. Must be out of print...

With Tirzah the options are rather better, as Persephone Books is about to publish her autobiography 'Long Live Great Bardfield' in a trade edition. This hilarious, insightful and sometimes painfully honest book was edited by Eric and Tirzah's daughter Anne Ullmann, and was originally published as a typically gorgeous limited edition by The Fleece Press. Illustrated with Tirzah's witty wood engravings, the new paperback is a must-read for anyone who has even a passing interest in life and culture in interwar England.

What else? Oh yes. By some quirk of timing, Tirzah is the 60,000th person to have their life recorded in the ODNB. I'm not sure if that makes Peggy the 59,999th, or the 60,001st.